Perhaps the biggest hurdle in the development of any technology is getting it to please all the people all the time. At NAB, a diverse group of vendors will take this axiom one giant step further with the Material Exchange Format (MXF) standard.
While most of the NAB action will gel on the show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center, several vendors will gather at the nearby Renaissance Hotel to present a complete content-management system based on the MXF standard. The demonstration, sponsored by the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), is designed to provide interoperability among different vendors' products by communicating standard information, or metadata, about digital media files.
The work is the result of MXF development started two years ago by Turner Broadcasting System and now known as the “MXF Mastering Format Project.” The goal is to provide a solution for file-based workflows, where an MXF master file can be used to create multiple program versions. MXF proponents are using the demonstration, which will track a piece of media from ingest to playout to archiving, to get industry feedback before creating more-formal specifications.
“Turner's been doing a lot of the MXF work; this is an end-to-end demo,” says Joe Zaller, VP of marketing for image-processing firm Snell & Wilcox.
Along with Snell & Wilcox, participating vendors include storage suppliers EMC and Quantum; server vendor Omneon; automation firm Pro-Bel; subtitling supplier Softel; and software companies Marquis Broadcast, Metaglue, Open Cube Technologies and TMD.
SMPTE formalized the MXF standard in 2004. Turner became involved with MXF early on, says Clyde Smith, senior VP of global broadcast technology and standards, as it saw the value of interoperability while seeking to streamline program distribution into international markets.
For example, in the world of tape-based playout, repurposing an English-language program for multiple countries meant physically recording onto tape a separate audio track for each foreign language required. Turner wanted to avoid duplicating the workflow in server-based playout by using metadata to pair different language audio tracks, titles and credits with one common piece of video.
“We saw the repurposing of content, and doing it in an automated manner, as being important in the future,” says Smith. “But servers were a big problem, as there wasn't a path to get the metadata through the system that you needed to repurpose the content. Without metadata, [the content] may as well not be there.”
Turner, with new overseas distribution centers in London and Buenos Aires, has been touting MXF development as a real-world solution for sharing files between devices and simply repurposing content.
The challenge of implementing MXF, says Smith, is that its creators gave it a “very rich toolkit” to allow for maximum flexibility but one that calls for a certain amount of interpretation. With so many options available, this could create an unnecessary stumbling block.
Turner has been pushing for common interpretations of different technical parameters so that one vendor's metadata means the same to another. The MXF development group has held weekly phone conferences for the past two years, going over each partner's needs and mapping out operational steps.
The Las Vegas event, which will be supplemented by an MXF workshop on Tuesday afternoon, aims to show the fruits of those labors. The demonstration can accommodate up to 800 people across five days. Early response has been very strong, according to Smith and AMWA Executive Director Brad Gilmer, and major networks including CBS and PBS have expressed interest.
“We'll spend time with them, as we have before,” says CBS VP of East Coast Operations Bob Ross. “Metadata is always a challenge. We're trying to make sure everything we're doing is standards-compliant. Like everybody else, we're dependent on having a good metadata standard to pass material.”